Sounds like a nice idea – if you like crime, plus enjoy historical fiction, why not combine the two. Hence a whole series of Roman whodunits.
I gave it a go, and there were the elements there: building a story out of the background of how Rome dealt with piracy; a mystery; giving the protagonist his context of family. But this was a frightfully British Rome – indeed, the sort of Britain of the 70s you might come across in Monty Python or Forsythe’s (far superior) No Comebacks. Sure there would be some interesting parallels then and now, but these cliché characters probably never really existed in either era. So, for example, when the leading couple have a quick kiss near some docks, burley stevedores start to wolf-whistle (well, that’s what stevedores do isn’t it?). Everyone we meet is so familiar – not from life, but from B-grade British shows from twenty years ago.
Done well (Patrick O’Brian), historical fiction offers layered characters who, despite points of resonance, are sharply distinct from contemporary readers – what else could they be, existing in an entirely different context?
The sorts of characters we meet in ‘Scandal’ would largely be at home today – but only in a shallow fiction.
This was irritating, but not ultimately what saw me abandon ship about half way. I just couldn’t take any more of the glib arrogance of the narration. Not only did we meet stock characters, we judged them, and there were definitely the right sort of people, and the annoying ones. Davis seemed to draw deeply from notions of annoying relatives who just don’t know how to dress properly, raise their children, or act appropriately. There’s a sense of class and minor-snobbishness running through, but not in a self-aware way.
On my website this review fits very nicely next to Martha Grimes’ similarly smug The Horse You Came In On.